An Introduction to the My Lai Courts-Martial
9 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2007
Date Written: 2007
Two tragedies took place in 1968 in Viet Nam. One was the massacre by United States soldiers of as many as 500 unarmed civilians - old men, women, children - in My Lai on the morning of March 16. The other was the cover-up of that massacre.
On March 14, a small squad from C Company ran into a booby trap, killing a popular sergeant, blinding one GI and wounding several others. The following evening, when a funeral service was held for the killed sergeant, soldiers had revenge on their mind. After the service, Captain Medina rose to give the soldiers a pep talk and discuss the next morning's mission. Medina told them that the VC's crack 48th Battalion was in the vicinity of a hamlet known as My Lai 4, which would be the target of a large-scale assault by the company. The soldiers' mission would be to engage the 48th Battalion and to destroy the village of My Lai. By 7 a.m., Medina said, the women and children would be out of the hamlet and all they could expect to encounter would be the enemy. The soldiers were to explode brick homes, set fire to thatch homes, shoot livestock, poison wells, and destroy the enemy. The seventy-five or so American soldiers would be supported in their assault by gunship pilots.
The cover-up of the My Lai massacre began almost as soon as the killing ended. Official army reports of the operation proclaimed a great victory: 128 enemy dead, only one American casualty (one soldier intentionally shot himself in the foot). The army knew better. Hugh Thompson had filed a complaint, alleging numerous war crimes involving murders of civilians. By late April, General Westmoreland, Army Chief of Staff, had turned the case over to the Inspector General for investigation. Over the next few months, dozens of witnesses were interviewed. It became apparent to all connected with the investigation that war crimes had been committed. In June, 1969, William Calley was flown back from Viet Nam to appear in a line-up for identification by Hugh Thompson. By August, the matter was in the hands of the army's Criminal Investigation Division for a determination as to whether criminal charges should be filed against Calley and other massacre participants. On September 5, formal charges, included six specifications of premeditated murder, were filed against Calley.
Keywords: Famous Trials, Trial, My Lai, Vietnam, Calley, Medina, Hugh Thompson, Westmoreland, Cover-up, Massacre, Viet Cong, Aubrey Daniel
JEL Classification: K10, K40, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation